August is finally here and for us in the Northern hemisphere this time is also known as the Dog Days of summer. Have you ever wondered where that term comes from? It is actually a very ancient term from the belief that Sirius, also called the “dog star” is close to the sun and is the reason we have hot weather.
The Romans also recognised the dog days of summer as dies caniculares and linked the warm weather with Sirius as well. Sirius was the “dog star” because it is the brightest star in Canis Major (Large Dog), the constellation. Sirius is also the brightest star in the sky at night.
According to Wikipedia, in Ancient Rome, the Dog Days ran from July 24th through August 24th, or, alternatively, from July 23 through August 23rd. In many European cultures this period is still said to be the time of the Dog Days. The Old Farmer’s Almanac also lists the traditional period of the Dog Days as the 40 days beginning July 3rd and ending August 11th, coinciding with the ancient sunrise rising of the Dog Star, Sirius. These are the days of the year with the least rainfall in the Northern Hemisphere. References to the Dog Days of summer can also be found in the original King James bible.
For the ancient Egyptians, Sirius appeared just before the season of the Nile’s flooding, so they used the star as a “watchdog” for that event. Since its rising also coincided with a time of extreme heat, the connection with hot, sultry weather was made for all time: “Dog Days bright and clear, indicate a happy year; But when accompanied by rain, for better times our hopes are vain.”
In recent years, the phrase “Dog Days” or “Dog Days of Summer” have also found new meanings. The term has frequently been used in reference to the American stock market(s). Typically, summer is a very slow time for the stock market, and additionally, poorly performing stocks with little future potential are frequently known as “dogs.”
If you ask the average person, you will probably find that many people believe the phrase is in reference to the happy, lazy dogs (who are in danger of overheating with too much exercise) during the hottest days of the summer. When speaking of “Dog Days” many people have a mental picture of dogs lying or “dogging” around, or being “dog tired” on these hot and humid days. The feast day of Saint Roch, the patron saint of dogs, is also August 16th, so show your canine companions some extra love on this day as well!